Days before of the 50th anniversary of the greatest football play in history, Franco Harris, an NFL Hall of Famer, passed away at the age of 72. His miracle was a spark of hope for Pittsburg fans and sports lovers alike. In the 102-year history of the NFL, the Steelers have produced some of the best players & Franco was one of them.
In New Jersey’s Fort Dix, Harris was born. His father, black soldier Cad Harris, served in World War II and was based in Italy at the time. His mother, Gina Parenti Harris, an Italian native who later became a “war bride,” immigrated to the United States with her husband when the war was over. In 1968, Harris completed his high school education at Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly Township, New Jersey. He then enrolled at Penn State University, where he participated in football with the Nittany Lions.
He averaged nearly five yards per carry while rushing for 2,002 yards and 24 touchdowns while serving mostly as a blocker for All-American running back Lydell Mitchell. He also caught 28 passes for 352 yards and another touchdown. In 1970, he was the team’s top scorer.
Harris was awarded the league’s Rookie of the Year in his first year with the Steelers (1972), according to both The Sporting News and United Press International. He carried the ball 188 times for 1,055 yards throughout that season, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He scored touchdowns on the ground 10 times and through the air four times.
His admirers, which included “Brigadier General” Frank Sinatra, referred to themselves as “Franco’s Italian Army” and donned army helmets bearing his number. He was well-liked by Pittsburgh’s sizable Italian-American community. From 1972 to 1980, Harris was selected for 9 straight Pro Bowls. In 1977, he was also named All-Pro. In eight seasons, Harris broke Jim Brown’s record for most rushing yards with more than 1,000. Following the 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979 seasons, the running back duo of Harris and Rocky Bleier helped their team win four Super Bowls with the help of a solid defence.
Harris, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first vote, continues to lead the Super Bowl in career rushing with 354 yards. He was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl IX thanks to his 158 yards, which helped the Steelers win 16-6. While his two touchdowns and 112 all-purpose yards helped the Steelers defeat the tenacious Rams in Super Bowl XIV, his 22-yard touchdown gallup late in Super Bowl XIII helped the Steelers defeat the Cowboys for the second time in Super Bowl play.
His passing at the age of 72 occurs only days before the Steelers are set to retire his No. 32 during a ceremony at halftime of Pittsburgh’s Week 16 game against the Raiders.
Joe Biden took time from his busy schedule to make a statement about Frank Harris who he claims as a good friend. Through the White House’s official portal, Biden released his statement regarding Frank’s passing.
“Say the name Franco Harris and most everyone talks about the catch, the Super Bowls, and the glory he brought to the game of football. But in the fifty years we bonded as friends, I always talked about his character and compassion.”Joe Biden, The White House
“Fifty years ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers had just finished a dominant regular season with their first division title. They celebrated Christmas just days after beating the Oakland Raiders on one of the most famous plays in NFL history – the last-second Immaculate Reception by their rookie running back, Franco Harris. While the Steelers would barely lose the conference championship game to the undefeated Miami Dolphins, Franco went on to a Hall of Fame career that led the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in six years as the dominant team of the 1970’s.”
“But that’s not why the Pittsburgh Steelers – and Franco – are close to my heart.”
“It was this week fifty years ago when my first wife and infant daughter were killed and my two young sons were badly injured in a car accident while they were out getting a Christmas tree. I had just been elected to the U.S. Senate and I was in Washington when I got the call and rushed home to Delaware.”
“I rarely left my boys’ bedside until they got better. But one day I did to go shopping for them. When I returned, they were smiling for the first time since the accident. Art Rooney, the generous and honorable owner of the Steelers, had flown out with a couple of players, including Franco, and the tough as nails Rocky Bleier. Busy with their own lives, they took the time to be with my boys, sign footballs, and then left with no publicity. A small act of kindness that meant the world to us.”